Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Writer: Kyle Hemmings

How the D Train Saved Me Cab Fare One Morning

My car has a flat and my heart is still in flutter from the night before. A girl dumped me for perhaps not having the moves her recently fired boyfriend did. The problem was he made moves on every other woman. Of course, she didn’t need to say it--I could tell by the distracted look in her eyes that I didn’t give good face, the kind the old boyfriend must have had, a carbon copy of some soap opera hero that women keep reaching for in the night, while their disposable boyfriends are asleep. Ain't life a bitch.
But priorities. I need to get to work. So I scram to the D train to make uptown in a flash. Inside, I hold on to metal for dear life and sit down before her. She's old, can pass for someone's disenfranchised grandmother, the flyaway hairs, slop of lipstick, long dress with a few strings hanging like faded memories, not even Salvation Army potential. A roar of metallic teeth, we buck, the train stops at Alphabet Hell. There's another name for the street, but my memory sometimes derails.

So I'm back to the woman. Eyeing her like an old TV show my parents wouldn't let me watch. There's something about her eyes, hazel side of blue, a subdued sparkle that speaks bittersweet and what hangs over us in the night so far away. Could go by a thousand names. Maybe that distracted quality like in the almost girlfriend from last night. The train switches. I'm practically in her lap. Something inside me snaps a finger. We're now each other's mirror. ExcusemeIsay, aren't you that actress, Melena Marpelli?

An impulsive jerk, I am. But Melena was my mother's favorite topic of conversation, her vote for worst actress of 1963, a movie that wouldn't even make a soap opera. Melena, then a starlet often compared to Natalie Wood, played the other woman for a much older businessman who was scarred by the memory of Pork Chop Hill. I can still recall a movie shot where Melina’s married lover, leading a perfect double life, poses at a barbecue with his family. Everybody in that shot, including the children, have smiles that seem to say We have everything we want. By the movie’s end, the married lover has committed suicide and Melena has taken up with a much younger man, addicted to drugs and music, and who constantly cheats on her, grubs off her.

The old woman smiles at me with her eyes. "My name isn't Melena Marpelli," she says as if reading a nursery rhyme. "Melena Marpelli died sometime ago."
She rolls her eyes up and smiles.
“I think it was only a month or so ago.”
I’m studying her like a Mona Lisa, deciding if this one’s authentic.

But I believe, as if belief can sometimes lead to a truth of some kind, that Melena Marpelli is still alive somewhere in the lower Bronx. I could be wrong. I haven’t kept up with the lives of faded stars. I believe Melina lives with a younger sister who is her caretaker. The real Melena, from what I remember reading a few years back, is frail and doesn’t get out much. And this woman has Melena's voice. Kind of. I know that voice from so long ago. It’s a voice of what was once a sweet seductive hunger.
I lean forward in my seat and try to speak over the rumble of train against track, the film score of my life this morning.

"May I have Melena's autograph?" I say, my heart a frog and my throat a pond where nothing stays for very long. "My mother loved you in The Secret of Miss Emily Baker. Was it hard faking that limp?"

There’s a mischievous twinkle in Melina’s eyes. She speaks as if to someone over my shoulder.
“When I was younger, I loved Melena Marpelli. I even tried to dress like her, imitate her hairstyle. I loved the character she always played. A foolish girl who was always in trouble. A beautiful girl you couldn’t say no to. You just had to help her.”

The subway lurches and my wallet falls from my hands. The old siren beats me to it, fumbling to get at it. I grab her arm to keep her from falling over. For a woman her age, she seems to be in better shape than I had thought. She hands me the wallet, this look on her face that means kismet or something like. Her eyes are so young. I take out my business card and ask her to sign the back in her Hollywood name. I hand her an engraved pen, which I only carry to impress clients. The train stops at 14th street. We shake hands and she says "It's been a pleasure. I always feel richer whenever I meet someone who remembered me when I wasn't poor. Fame only lasts a moment."
The voice sounds different now. It’s not Melena’s voice. Maybe because I’m much closer I can hear the scratchiness or the drop in tone. It’s a voice that has stopped straining to be someone else’s.

She gets off. A slight limp to her gait. She doesn’t look back or wave. I try to track her but she disappears in a crowd of Monday Morning rushers. I willow-wonder: Where is it she has to go?
I catch a flash of her making her way through the crowd, the elegant if somewhat stiff gait, her fade-out when reaching the base of the escalator. The limp is gone. A different woman. I second guess myself—-Was there ever a limp?

I take the piece of paper, which is now all I have of her and slip it into the wallet. Forty bucks are missing. I feel so much richer.

© Kyle Hemmings 2011

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. His work has been featured in Elimae, Thunderclap Press, Nano Fiction, Used Furniture and elswhere. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), Avenue C (Scars Publications), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Writer: Kim Farleigh

Condemned

Natalia screamed: “I don’t want your money!”
Patricia’s eyes were soft with pity, the silence denuded of tranquillity.
“I don’t want to speak to anyone!” Natalia screamed.
She went behind the bar to ring her mother, her left hand thrashing as she spoke on the phone.
“I’ll wait up for you,” her mother said. “Please don’t worry!”
Natalia gulped between outbursts.
“It may’ve even been someone I know,” she cried. “Someone I know may’ve even seen it!”
“Everything’s going to be fine,” her mother said. “Don’t worry. We can talk when you get here.”
Moist tracks gleamed on Natalia’s cheeks.
She put the phone down and dabbed the corners of her eyes with a tissue.
“Why don’t you have a place where people can put their bags?” she demanded.
“Sorry,” the bar manager replied, “but we can’t take responsibility for everything.”
“You don’t take any responsibility for anything! You let anyone in here!”
Even you, the bar manager thought.
“Can you go back behind the bar, please? We have to clean up.”
“You don’t care about anything!”
“Please; can you go back behind the bar?”
“Bastard,” Natalia muttered.
The barman yelled: “You deserve it!”
“Arsehole!” Natalia yelled.
David felt moral concussion. Good behaviour had never been a consciously sought-after characteristic in a partner. Most people just don’t behave like this! It had never even been a consideration – something just taken for granted.
The empty bar’s timber floor now seemed crudely exposed, like the bones of a decaying beast.
“The only reason I came here tonight,” Natalia told David, “was to see you. I want your telephone number. And I’m not interested in friendship. These people say anything behind your back; they’re jealous of you.”
Her throat sucked in, then pumped out, red tracks on her marble eyes.
“And,” she grimaced, “I’ve been robbed! Keys, money, ID, mobile, everything! And I only wanted to see you!”
They left the bar. It was drizzling. A serene darkness hemmed in the dampness.
“Patricia asked me how things are going with you,” Natalia said. “She wants a disaster. She loves you, but she won’t admit it; I’m sincere and bold: I can’t stand these cowards.”
David found positive self-perceptions baffling – even surreal.
“I come from a rich family,” she wailed, “and I’ve been well brought up – unlike some of those people!”
During his youth, David had shared a room with his brother and father, cheap cupboards, old clothes, and nothing else.
“And I respect certain values,” she continued, “not like them!”
He’d never noticed anything bad about those people; but he hadn’t been brought up well either.
“You have to be careful,” she said. “There’s so much jealousy. Personal comments can be used against you. You’re too nice to realise it.”
Incandescent reflections decorated puddles, reflections transforming the things themselves.
Human, faceless entities swarmed in a wet, sombre murk. Neon colours shimmered in the murk.
The fist-flying wind clobbered David’s face.
A taxi stopped beside them.
“I’ll ring you,” she said.
They stared at each other; then their mouths began swimming in silky contact. The rain, striking like soft nails, flashed in headlights. Their mouths swirled like aquatic creatures, dolphins in three dimensions, the wind howl-clattering, a haphazard-direction-swing wind.
She’s kissing an inferior being, he thought. And she doesn’t know it. Escape before she finds out.
She got into the taxi and waved as she left.
The wind and rain made David squint. Tongues moving like marine angels, David tried to forget what he was; she must get into a taxi now, he had thought.
People were huddled in doorways like penguins. Rain rippled the footpath. The need to escape had filled David’s mind like background radiation, the thought that she was going to change her perception of him inevitable – she’d already indirectly said that she couldn’t stand him. Unjustified admiration filled him with levitating emptiness.
The rain whipped its liquid lashes; a running woman accidentally clipped David in the face, the woman spinning and saying: “Oh! Sorry!”
He thought: What a night!
Sparkling, liquid-confetti drizzle, illuminated by a streetlight, resembled a radiant teardrop above a couple who were waiting at a taxi rank. The couple looked around, independently of each other, waiting in silence.

*

Nobody cares, Natalia thought, as she got out of the taxi. If Patricia cared would she have just offered me five euros? Of course not! She’s done well in business. She’s rich. Five euros! What was I going to do with that!? I had nothing! None of them could care less. No one offered to come with me to the police station. People stop listening when their mobiles ring. Everybody else’s problems are irrelevant. We’re all just individuals living alone. Alone! Love doesn’t even exist! It’s just an act! My own mother doesn’t even care. She just says: “You’re too complicated!” There’s no heart, no real emotion. It’s all about the fear of being alone, about escaping from inadequacies rather than confronting them.
David’s bedroom’s light intensified the uneasiness he felt about not having extracted joy from kissing beauty, his soaking hair plastered too heavily onto his head, like a burden.
Maybe I’m just overreacting, he thought. Although belligerent, unfounded certainty is a definite turn-off. It just feels wrong. I’ve never kissed a beautiful woman before and felt perturbed. It’s weird.
Natalia’s mother opened the door.
“What took you so long getting here?” she asked.
Her tone was pleasant.
“I was with someone.”
“Everything’s going to be all right.”
Natalia took her coat off and went to the bathroom and dried her hair.
It could have been Juan, she thought. He hardly said a word tonight! He just sat behind us with that cold look on his face; then he disappeared without saying a word. It might have been him!
And not the homeless man who’d entered after Juan had left.

*

David lay down on his bed. The agitation that had been stirring in his head began to turn to relief when he accepted that he had been too obsessed with exterior beauty. The agitation had been an unconscious sign. He felt a stabilising sensation of alleviation when he realised that he hadn’t given his real needs their due consideration. He hadn’t accepted just how much he admired sincere weaknesses until that night. Something, he thought, that’s definitely human. I can’t have a relationship with someone who’s convinced of their perfection, he thought. There’s no humour in that, no self-deprecation or sardonic self-analysis. It would just be complaints, self-righteousness, no awareness of the need for improvement; and little chance of seeing virtues in others.
He got up and went into the bathroom and began drying his hair with a towel. This craziness, he thought, this unsociable behaviour: its disturbing and obnoxious. Her beauty gets destroyed by it. And usually women look more beautiful than they actually are because of their personalities – not the other way around!
He lay on the bed again. And especially in Spain, he thought, where women can be as charming as it gets.
Feeling dryer he also felt lighter and fresher. The worse thing, he thought, is that you know that behind that blissful smile of hers, and behind that deep laughter, there’s something disturbing that’s just waiting to erupt. It’s like sailing over a smooth, blue sea, under a blue sky, knowing that the water is laced with icebergs as sharp as broken glass. You know that the peace is going to be disrupted by a sudden, hull-splitting collision with a chunk of bitter ice. Some men like the unpredictable excitement of this, but not me. Give me a smooth, glistening sea, free of reefs and icebergs, any day. I prefer beautiful simplicity. Madness completely shocks me. It’s much more entertaining observing it from a distance, not having it in your life.
She didn’t ring him anyway. There was even a moment when she had thought: I wonder if he was involved in a plan with Juan?

© Kim Farleigh 2011

Having a taste for the exotic, Kim has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He hasn't recovered. He probably never will. He's thinking of doing it again! His stories have appeared in several magazines in the US, Australia and Europe, including Whiskey Island, Southerly, Island, Haggard & Halloo, Feathertale and many others.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Writer: Ed Dean

The Road

From my darkened driveway I watch a brilliant orange sky light up the evening after a very long week on the road. Thank God it’s Friday! It’s not that I’m physically tired like my father was after a long week in the factory or mentally tired like my school teacher sister, I’m just emotionally drained. But when I walk in that door I know I must garner enough strength to feed the psyches of three loving faces.
Actually my week on the road is TNT—Tuesday through Thursday—Monday and Friday are office days. Monday is usually a planning and briefing session and Fridays are debriefings but this Friday caught me in an emotional extension on the road.
The office techies keep saying that we’ll soon be replaced by the Internet and ‘computer-to-computer’ decisions. Sometimes I wish it were true but in my heart I know that ‘pressing the flesh’ will always have a place in the human sales equation.
Colored clouds float by spewing dramatic dark orange, and red highlights entertain my thoughts punctuated by headlights of other cars scurrying like ants on a hill, weaving their way to some quiet solitude. I am no different. I sit in the driveway with my headlights off and linger in contemplative review letting my psyche rewind. I too am one of the ants. I stop to look skyward once more before opening the door and remember the old Indian saying; “It is a good day to die!” But which life would cease? Is it all worth it, this double life of duplicity and deceit? I am only a minor player in corporate America. I truly am a road warrior and it’s a life that I have learned to love and respect. Every lonely sunset has become my friend, my lover, my mentor. There is never a duplicate, just as love is, easy and forgiving. There are smiling faces behind that door only for me. To be loved is a special thing and I think I have found more than my share in this double life.
As a Young Turk in my mid-twenties I received my golden spurs; road warrior by choice and avocation. Eager successful years promoted me to an expanded agenda with titles that I proudly accepted along with the ensuing money. Titles are always part of the package and are only meaningful on an embossed business card. Was I good; was I right? You judge because I know you will!
Early on I borrowed a great ploy from a mentor. When I landed in a local area, my eyes searched for a street urchin. I gave the carefully chosen kid a mind-boggling five-dollar bill to carry my card up to the receptionist and announce my appointment and presence. I was rarely kept waiting. My natural success was never about my ability to talk but more to observe and listen. Corporate customers lie more than any peddler in the world. They assume their crown will hide everything. But the truth is on the factory floor. A twenty-dollar lunch with a line supervisor gave me everything I needed to know.
Endless hotel and motel chains with earned honor points became my second kingdom but in the end it was only a plush lonely bed at the end of the day. Of course, there were lavish dinners out with exec customers but most evenings end with a B.L.T. room-service sandwich with two scotches from the mini-bar.
As in any upgraded city-center hotel, there was the ‘road warrior’ clan. Black Jack always seemed to be my shadow. He was neither black nor Jack; he was simply Dan. The moniker came from his prolific love of Jack Daniels. He never asked what you were drinking, but ordered a Jack-on-the rocks and let you choose a mixer of your choice. He personified the negative side of our trade. Jack loved to bemoan proliferation of skirts in our brotherhood. Most of the women were pharmaceutical or retail reps and rarely industrial, but Jack never missed a chance to hit on them every chance he got. Jack’s mantra was; no sex was worse than bad sex but most of us chose conversation and camaraderie at the bar. We were a fun loving family of ‘Can you top this?’ and most of the time it was “yes.”
Personal or professional problems were rarely up for discussion but when it came into the mix both genders’ advice flowed faster than the booze. We were family for the night.
When you work the Midwest, snowstorms and bad weather are facts of life. Familiarity with the hotel staff or guaranteed hotel reservations are your only port in the storm. When you’re one of the lucky, the peddler creed says that you share that extra double-queen in your bedroom. Your eyes search the bundled bodies in the overbooked hotel lobby and you offer. If your heartfelt invitation goes out to a ‘skirt’ you might be branded as a ‘dirt bag’ but most of the seasoned ‘road warrior’ gals know that it’s a sign of respect and accept graciously.
Sex is never the equation but only happens as an answer to a long night of camaraderie in the hotel bar. It is that natural and constant need of humanity to be validated by the intimacy of wanting and being wanted.
A late breakfast in the dining room brings news that the highways will be open by early afternoon. Hugs and well wishes flow over the tables and within a few hours the vast migration of the road warriors would suck the hotel empty.
You learn early on never to check your baggage. Carry-on is the only way to go. Ten minutes to the parked car and a dreary log jammed expressway-hour home and you realize that you’re just one of the leaf-cutter ants in the colony heading down the jungle road with your prize on your back. The headlights quickly pop on like stars in the early darkened skies and after fifteen years on the road, you wonder, “How long before I get the home office promotion? How long before I have only one life to lead?” But as you pull up into a darkened driveway and contemplate; you know she knows; she knows but tolerates the deception as the pretty little lady at all the corporate functions. She smiles graciously and makes the required small talk and does her part to be the perfect corporate wife. She is well paid for her pain, but money will never soothe her emotional scars. Was she a ‘sell-out’ just like me? She had a talented career that she chose to disregard for an easier life.
I can hear the lyrics to Tina Turner’s song, ‘What’s love got to do with it’ rattling around in my brain. I know it’s just a matter of time. How long before she gets tired and takes the kids and leaves? How long will the duplicity last? Have I become just another ‘Black Jack’ road junkie? And then you finally admit to yourself that you’re an addict and the split in your personality is becoming permanent.

© Edward Dean 2011

Edward Dean grew up in Dearborn and Highland Park, Michigan until being drafted into the army and subsequently into the N.S.A. Having been in sales and marketing most of his life, Mr. Dean is now semi-retired and spends much of his time writing. His own experiences in the military, traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, and as a wine enthusiast provided much of the background to his book. Mr. Dean has three books in the works, including a sequel to The Wine Thief.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Guest Writer: Sandra Davies

Curve of Early Learning

“Mind the edge!”

A warning since before memory, always an edge to beware, to be forever aware of.

First, at Liddle, had been slabs, as thick as three of her three-year-old fingers, flat patterned stone, hard and often sharp when new, both separating bed from bed and on which they lay, degree of comfort dependent on the depth and newness of the heather piled thereon. Their edges had too often bruised or marked her, although in time more so by accident, in darkness or too many people in the space. Sometimes her brothers pushed her, but less so once she had learnt to scratch and pinch.

And beside the central fire the stone slabs sunken in a square, a fifth slab as a base, joints sealed with clay so as to stop stone-heated water seep away too fast. Here the need to watch for hot for heat stayed long after fire had gone and pain from heat was different, and far greater. And pain could be from ashes or the splashes from the water or the spitting from the meat when it was cooking.

And as she gained years the edges of her wanderings extended, beyond the need to stay in sight: first of her mother then of the younger boys she was required to watch.

Later still, and with her father, walking to another edge, the edges of their family land, land long belonging to their family, their families and their ancestors. A time of light, near always light, she had not noticed it before, had slept despite the light before, and her father had reminded her, had told her of the inbetweentimes of the almost always dark time which also came with greater cold and wind and wet. That year the edge she saw of land was where the land met land; stones and hollows and narrow running water marking boundary lines between the edge of what was theirs and what was not.

Not until another dark and the following time of light, when she was surer-footed, did he take her to the edge of land itself, to where the land did stop and the bones of land were visible, stone slabs laid down, layer piled on many layers, beneath the thinnest layer of soil and grass. Slab upon slab, just as they built their shelter walls, but these high stack-piled edges were pounded endlessly by mass of pushing heaving water - her father said it never stopped, was ever-present noise and movement, as was the movement of the air, although air changed in noise and where it came from, and how strong and whether warm or fierce or flecked or filled with water.

From here she saw the final edge, where far-off edge of water met the that-day light-filled sky, and she wanted urgently to know and asked her father and he told her he did not know, that no-one knew, but that if she looked to where the sun was now, midway between the edges, in between its coming and its slipping down, below its highest arcing in the sky she would see that there was more land, that the water did not go on forever, but that where the sun slipped out of sight, there again was where no-one he knew had known or seemingly could ever know.

Three or four more light-dark times and then she did know more. Knew then that men could come from the edge of sky met sea, knew then that men could hurt as much as edge of stone, as much as heat and even more, another hurt that did not mark her skin, could not be seen but gave an edge of hurt to everything that came thereafter.

One man had later been less hard, had tried to make amends and after she’d lain down for him, and then again to birth his son – more hurt but yet another kind - had given her a ring, shiny black and heavy on her finger, as his hand had been on her at times. But time did thin the edge of hurt, of people known and now long gone, and he was not so hard as many, so that when he died and his bones stripped and laid at Isbister with others, honour made with totem white-tailed eagle bones, and when soon after she was taken by another, she broke his ring as symbol of her hurt – this time an empty aching hurt - at losing him.


[Isbister, in Orkney, is the location of what is now referred to as the Tomb of the Eagles, a Stone Age burial chamber where half of a jet ring was found in 1976. Subsequently the tomb was excavated and found to contain some thirty human skulls and hundreds of bones from humans and white-tailed sea eagles. Ten years later the second half of the ring was found and given to the farmer who had discovered the first for him to place them back together for the first time in more than 5000 years – an act which, he said, ‘caused the hairs to stand up on the back of his neck’. Liddle is the site of a nearby dwelling, identifiable from its square stone water sink wherein hot stones were laid to heat the water after heating on the hearth and before being placed on the burnt mound midden.]

© Sandra Davies 2011

Sandra Davies is an artist and printmaker and recently-emerged writer of fiction, with a long-established interest in family history. Born on the Essex coast, she now lives in Teesside in the north east of England, both places having the flat landscapes and sea-edged horizons considered essential for a sense of well-being. More writing can be found at lines of communication and some prints at Print Universe
This piece can be found in Sandra's excellent book Edge which comprises Curve of Early Learning, Arc of Adaptation, and Circle of Celebration

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